Unlocking Soviet ‘stealth’ T-60S with variable swing geometry

It’s no secret that Russian military aviation has produced a substantial number of successful aircraft, as well as numerous concepts that never quite took off or advanced beyond the confines of a Ministry of Defense drawer. Just four years ago, we compiled a list of the top five unfulfilled Russian projects. And let us assure you, the plethora of material in Russia is abundant enough to generate at least ten similar rankings. 

Unlocking Soviet 'stealth' T-60S with variable swing geometry
Video screenshot

However, we intentionally omitted the Soviet T-60S bomber from this list. While it’s accurate to say this plane exists solely as an idea, numerous pundits, including those from the West, are criticizing the Russian defense ministry, blaming them for its absence on the modern battlefield. Many believe the T-60S bomber could be leading today’s operations as a valuable asset, replacing the likes of the Tu-22Ms or Su-34s, which are currently participating in the conflict in Ukraine.

The reason

It’s believed the genesis of the T-60S can be traced back to the post-war era in the Soviet Union. The landscape was filled with numerous bombers that had outlived their technological relevance and were aging gracelessly. The mandate was clear – a suitable replacement was necessary. 

Fast-forward to the mid-1980s, the quest for a new medium-range bomber was initiated by the Soviet military. Their goal was to retire the many outdated aircraft. Among the most notable aircraft in need of an upgrade were the Su-24 assault aircraft dating back to the early 1970s, and the Tu-22M strategic bomber. What intrigued the Soviet authorities was the development of a comprehensive, upgraded bomber platform to pave the way for the newer and more refined Tu-22M3 model. 

The T-60S project by Sukhoi is thought to be an advanced version of the older T-4 concept, an anticipated Soviet answer to the XB-70 Valkyrie, which couldn’t progress beyond the prototype stage. The inception of the T-60S project was shrouded in secrecy, and the majority of specifics linked to its tumultuous development remain undisclosed to this day.

Russian VKS will receive modernized Tu-22M3M long-range bombers
Photo credit: The National Interest

Unlocking T-60S

The T-60S was designed with stealth and supersonic speed in mind, intended to carry substantial amounts of explosives. The exact measurements remain closely guarded secrets, due to the confidential nature of the project. Indications point towards a large, streamlined machine, built in a blended wing-body format. This design helps to minimize the radar cross-section, significantly enhancing the stealth capabilities of the aircraft. American expert Mark Episkopos suggests that the T-60S is a multi-role aircraft equipped with two-dimensional thrust-vectoring nozzles, a theory widely accepted in the industry. 

Given the absence of definitive details, the technical parameters of the T-60S remain largely speculative. However, it’s believed to incorporate advanced avionics and radar technologies, in addition to cutting-edge stealth features. The aircraft is likely to boast a high service ceiling and an ability to cruise at high speeds, enabling it to penetrate enemy defenses at significant altitudes and velocities. 

Unlocking Soviet 'stealth' T-60S with variable swing geometry
Video screenshot

It is expected that the T-60S will be powered by modern turbofan engines, providing the necessary thrust to attain supersonic speeds and a wide operational range. Episkopos suspects that the T-60S’s speed might be around Mach 2 and have a take-off weight of about 90 tons, a figure significantly lighter than the Tu-22M3. 

A standout feature of the T-60S would be its impressive operational range, enabling it to strike targets at extreme distances. While definitive figures are scarce, it’s reasonable to estimate an intercontinental range, effectively qualifying it as a strategic bomber. Some knowledgeable sources even offer more substantial estimates, suggesting a 2,200 km operational range and a payload capacity of around 22,000 kg. The T-60S arsenal would likely comprise a mix of nuclear and conventional weapons systems. Under these assumptions, it’s entirely plausible for the T-60S to ferry and discharge the Kh-101 and Kh-55/65 series cruise missiles effortlessly.

Variable geometry swing

Watch: Su-24 was hit in the left engine by a missile and survived
Photo credit: 24Chasa

One fascinating feature purportedly found in the T-60S bomber is its variable sweep geometry. In aviation jargon, this may be referred to as rotary wings or, more commonly, variable-sweep wings. These are unique aircraft wings engineered to modify the sweep angle of their leading edge during flight. 

There are numerous designs for these variable geometry wings, yet they typically feature pivoting hinges that enable the wings to shift forward or backward. This rotation angle of the wings is controlled by mechanisms such as hydraulic actuators or similar mechanical elements. 

Typically, during the crucial moments of takeoff and landing, the wings are swept back to a narrower angle. This adjustment enhances the lift provided by the wings, while simultaneously reducing the stalling speed of the aircraft. Conversely, when at high speeds, the wings tend to lean forward to a wider angle, reducing drag and increasing the top speed. Additionally, by allowing a sharper wing sweepback at lower speeds, these versatile variable geometry wings significantly boost the aircraft’s maneuverability.

Unlocking Soviet 'stealth' T-60S with variable swing geometry
Video screenshot

T-60S today in Ukraine

If the T-60S, with its adaptable geometric wings, were engaged in the current Ukrainian conflict today, it would certainly hold an advantage. Firstly, these wings are extremely versatile, adapting effortlessly to differing flight conditions – take-off, landing, high-speed cruising, and even low-speed maneuvering. 

Secondly, these adjustable wings enhance lift, granting the aircraft the capacity to perform tighter turns and maneuvers that are usually challenging, or even impossible, for planes with fixed wings. Keep in mind, that the T-60S is not a fighter, it’s a bomber. As such, the proficiency to execute such tight turns and acute maneuvers isn’t typically associated with existing bombers, even hybrid units like the Su-34.

Two-dimensional thrust vectoring nozzles

Indeed, the design of the T-60S engine incorporates two-dimensional thrust vectoring nozzles. These nozzles serve to alter the engine’s thrust direction, enabling the aircraft to perform complex maneuvers that would otherwise be impossible. 

Furthermore, two-dimensional thrust vectoring nozzles enhance the stability of the fighter jet. By adjusting the direction of thrust, the pilot can maintain control of the aircraft, even in challenging flight conditions. Additionally, these nozzles improve the short take-off and landing [STOL] capabilities of the fighter jet. 

The T-60S represents an ambitious endeavor from every perspective. Upon examining its core, we discover numerous innovative concepts now seen in current Russian aircraft, including the Su-34, Su-57, and some recent Tu-22M3 upgrades. However, the question remains, does the T-60S belong to the list of projects that Moscow mistakenly overlooked and discarded?

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